Feeling Stronger Every Day

C’mon, you know I couldn’t resist a Chicago reference!

I’m feeling better this week than last. Last Tuesday I had that doctor’s appointment where I found out that I have prehypertension (which means that my blood pressure is a bit high), Vitamin D deficiency, and my BMI classifies me as obese*. Awesome. Still got a couple of weeks before I get to go to the next doctor and do some serious digging into the rest of the symptoms that I’m pretty sure are related to a hormone imbalance, but I wanted to get a jump on fixing what I could with a renewed focus on diet and exercise. (*I do put stock in there being such a thing as a healthy weight, and I’m definitely not where I should be, weight-wise, but BMI isn’t the best way to determine it. Here’s a New York Times article on the discrepancies of the system.)

On Wednesday I put on my big girl pants and went back to eating 95% paleo, instead of my typical 60%. I’m also testing out how I do with intermittent fasting, eating my full day’s worth of calories between 10am and 6pm most days to give my body more time to rest between processes. For more info on intermittent fasting, here’s a great article from Nerd Fitness with all the basics.

Dropped coffee (I was already only drinking decaf, and it was still giving me jitters) from my diet, and I’m taking it easy with alcohol, as well. Taking all of my supplements (magnesium/calcium, multivitamin, B complex, D, probiotic, glucosamine, and fish oil) every day, but I was already doing that. Also went back to drinking an ounce of water per pound of body weight, which means that I have to pee pretty much constantly, but between the water and cutting out coffee, my skin is looking great!

One thing I’ve noticed is that since I started cutting off my ability to eat at night, I’ve weirdly stopped craving food. Went to the grocery store tonight and was able to walk right past those homemade double chocolate caramel brownies that I typically adore. (Though I’m not a saint – I did buy a dark chocolate orange peel bar to get me through the late night work session I’m about to embark upon after finishing up this blog post.) I’m also starting to pay attention to when I’m actually hungry vs. just bored – and guess what? Every time in the last week that I’ve felt like I should be eating something “after hours”, thus far it’s ALWAYS been related to boredom or being upset. Of course, I pretty much knew that, but reaffirming it by taking a mental note each time it happens is going to be very helpful in the long run. Hopefully, at least.

Last week I worked out four days at Iron Tribe, and this week I’m going to try for five or six. That doesn’t include steps – I’ve been aiming for (and hitting) 15k steps per day. That’s nothing new, though. I’ve been doing 15k steps per day for months now. In fact, I’m thinking of upping it to 20k steps, but for the moment I think it’s more important to get fully into the new eating schedule and take care of my right calf, which has been kind of tight lately. I don’t want to overwork it too much and damage myself, because my daily walks keep me sane. A day without a good long walk just feels wrong somehow.

All of the above is important, but the biggest changes are the ones that were already happening for me at the gym. The weight might not be falling off, but there are other ways to take a look at fitness, and it’s evident from the inches that I’ve lost and the new challenges that I’ve been undertaking during my workouts that working out is working, period. I’m finally able to see some definition in my arms, I’ve lost an inch off of my waist and thighs, two inches off of my boobs (sigh) and holy crap, can I lift some weight!

When I started at Iron Tribe last October, I had trouble just lifting the 35 lbs. bar without plates added. This Monday our workout included 2 reps of push presses for our heaviest weight, and I put 85 lbs. over my head – the most weight I’ve ever put over my head in any lift (strict, push press, push jerk, you name it)! I also have a feeling that if we weren’t doing 5 second holds as part of the press, I might have been able to do 90 to 95 lbs. In fact, I’m just realizing that I PR’d in my clean, too, since I put 95 lbs. into my front rack but couldn’t complete the press. Yay me! Adding it to my list of current PRs: 135 lbs. in front squat, back squat, and deadlift, 85 lbs. push press, and a 95 lbs. clean. Sweet.

Tuesday’s workout was better, but for a different reason: I had three personal firsts that were directly related to being stronger, all in the same workout. First off, we had to open and close the workout with 15 burpees. I typically try a couple of regulation burpees, then get worn out and do a scaled version where you step up instead of jump up. I got through NINE in the opening round, which is huge for me. Here’s a pic of me doing burpees at the end of the workout (22 minutes to do 15 burpees, 5 rounds of 6 pull ups and 6 deadlifts, 15 more burpees – I finished in 16:52), with my coach, Shelby, beside me helping me through those last few reps. Doesn’t she have the most amazing arms? I’m asking Santa for two of those this Christmas 😀

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The next good thing to happen was during pull ups. If you can’t do an unassisted pull up, you can use a resistance band to help support your weight and get you back to the top of the bar. If you squint a bit at the photo above, you can see green and red lines hanging near the top of the shot – those are the bands, dangling down from the pull up bar. You put one foot in your band(s), cross your ankles, and do the pull up as normal, and the bands help you pull your own weight back up to get your chin over the bar.

There are multiple weights of resistance bands, and people with less arm strength combine two bands of the heaviest weight, or maybe one of the heaviest weight and one of the next weight down. I usually use the two heaviest bands, but yesterday I felt stronger, and had a hunch that I’d be able to do a little better. So I used a strong band and a weaker band that even a month ago I wouldn’t have been able to do a single pull up with – and I rocked it! Was super tired by the end of the workout, and almost couldn’t get that very last pull up, but I got there after a few attempts. My arms were noodles today, but it was so worth it.

Today was also a victory, but in yet another sense – I got so bummed about not being able to make it to the gym because of work that I ended up putting work on hold so I could walk the 45 minutes there, do my workout, and walk back. Not a single regret 🙂

Alright, time to get some of that work done, so I’ll sign off. Have you been seeing any big changes in your life (physical, mental, spiritual)? I’d love to hear about them. Drop me a line in the comments!

Tackling Tribal Wars

ITF NOLA's Gray Division teams before Tribal Wars started.

ITF NOLA’s Gray Division teams before Tribal Wars started.

This weekend I competed in my first-ever fitness competition. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll have seen me talk about joining a gym called Iron Tribe Fitness. I’ve never been to a crossfit gym, but I hear that the two are very similar, but technically they’re both their own brands. So I’m not a crossfitter, I’m an ITF athlete…which suits me just fine.

I go to the gym four or five days a week, unless I’m traveling or sick. The workouts are 45 minutes long, and consist of a warm up, cool down, and about 35 minutes of HIIT training / weight lifting. Every day is something different, so you never get bored. The coaches are really hands on, and there’s a real camaraderie between coaches and athletes. Everyone’s very supportive, no matter your fitness level, and over the course of the last nine months I’ve ended up making both gym friends (folks that I chat with on site), and real life friends (people that I hang out with outside of gym-related activities). When I started at ITF, I had no clue how deeply my life would be affected, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve grown to adore my coaches and the people I work out with, and genuinely look forward to that precious time each day when I get to just go and work up a good sweat with people who not only don’t judge me, but also help me forget to judge myself for awhile. To put it mildly, it’s a great feeling.

Even with all of the above being said, I was still very nervous to sign up for Tribal Wars, the annual Iron Tribe competition. The event is for teams of four, competing in one of three divisions: Gray (lowest weight and reps), Orange (more weight and reps), and Black (lots of weight and reps, ie. superhuman effort). Our workouts at the gym are color coded, as well, and I’m typically working out in the Gray range, so I knew that I’d be competing in Gray as well. Easy. But none of my regular gym friends were competing, so I didn’t know how to tackle that. Luckily, the coaches were really helpful on that level, and set me up in a team with three other people I hadn’t met before in class, but ended up really liking.

Last Friday I hitched a ride up to Birmingham, AL with Lauren, another girl from the gym that I’d said hi to on occasion but didn’t know that well. As it turned out, she ended up being awesome, and we talked non-stop on the five-hour trip from Louisiana to Alabama. We were also in the same hotel room as our female coach, Shelby, which ended up being a great arrangement, since our personalities meshed really well. We all crashed pretty early, then woke up at 5:30 the next morning to make it to the stadium for Tribal Wars by 6:30. My team had had a hard time getting together prior to the competition, so that morning was the first time we were all in one place. We talked strategy, sat through a “how to” session where the event judges ran us through what constituted a rep or a no-rep (that means that you’ve done something incorrectly and that rep won’t count), and got ready to rumble.

My team after the competition.

My team after the competition.

My team was named The French Squatters, which was meant to be a pun on French Quarter and the numerous weightlifting exercises that involve squatting. It was funny enough, and none of us really cared that much about the name, but there were some truly funny/clever ones out on the field. I loved The Chalking Dead (where the logo had a chalk handprint), and Double Stuffed (their logo was a kettlebell that looked like an Oreo cookie), but my favorite one was 2 Jerks & 2 Snatches. There was also a team that wore Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirts. Can’t remember their actual team name, but they wore cool uniforms. Really looking forward to next year’s team name/uniforms. I’d love to put together an all-girl team named The Power Snatches!

Each division had three workouts overall. I didn’t pay attention to how the workouts were being scored, but there were several different things that were being calculated, involving weights and times, and a certain number of reps were required in each workout. The event took place on a college football field, and each team had an aisle to work out in. I don’t know much about how football fields are marked, but the aisle was the area between the horizontal lines that mark the field. Yard lines? Not sure, and not taking the time to look it up.

Doing kettlebell swings in Workout #1.

Doing kettlebell swings in Workout #1.

Anyway, Workout #1 for Gray Division sent two people to one end of the aisle, and the other two people to the other end. At one end, the two people had to do 100 barbell cleans (55 lbs) and 100 box jumps. At the other end, the other two people had 300 single unders (jump rope) and 100 kettlebell swings (26 lbs). After both sides had completed all assigned activity, all four team members met up in the middle for 15 team barbell burpees, where all four people had to do a burpee and jump over the equivalent of a barbell, then all four would do a burpee on that side, then jump, then burpee, etc, back and forth. All team members had to jump and land with both feet off the ground, or it would be a no rep and the whole team would have to repeat that burpee. I was most worried about the burpees for this workout. My teammate Olga and I were on the jump rope / kettlebell side, and didn’t have much problem taking care of them. I tripped a couple of times on the jump rope, which I honestly didn’t expect because I’m typically pretty quick at single unders, but she picked up when I faltered, and I did my fair share of kettlebell swings to help her out. I was surprised to really love those, by the way. I keep finding exercises that I used to be afraid of, and now really like. What surprised me most is that even though I was afraid that I’d be really slow and hold my team up on the burpees, we were all about the same level of proficiency, and I was even faster at some points. That surprised me a lot.

Workout #2 was a 300 meter shuttle run where the first team member ran up and down the field, then as soon as the first person got back, the second person and the first person could go again, then as soon as the second person got back, the first, second and third people could go, etc. As soon as the first person was done with the run (3 trips across and back the short side of the football field), they could go to the sidelines where there was a rack set up with a barbell and weights. All team members then had the remainder of the time for that workout (I think it was 15 minutes overall) to reach their heaviest weight for a complex of 3 front squats and an overhead of each person’s choice. I was a little bit disappointed on this workout, to be honest. My shuttle run was a lot faster than I’d thought it would be, but in the end there wasn’t enough time to get to my heaviest front squats / overhead combo. My PR with an overhead up until that point was 75 lbs, but that day I knew I had more in me. Since we were working our way up to adding more weight as a team, there just wasn’t enough time on the clock to adding any more weight, and my final weight was the same as my existing PR. I honestly think I could have done at least 85 lbs, but that day I was planning on trying for 95 lbs. Oh well – that gives me something to try for in the coming weeks. One great thing about the front squats is that I wasn’t very confident that my squat was low enough, and I was afraid of getting a no rep. I’ve historically had a lot of hip and back pain, and though squats have really been helping me get rid of the tightness in my hips, I still was worrying all the way up to the competition. While I was working out, Lauren took some photos of me from the stands – and look at this awesome front squat! I don’t look beautiful in this pic, but I look strong, and I’m very proud of it.

I finally get low enough in my front squat!!!

I finally get low enough in my front squat!!!

My feet are too far apart, and I could have put more weight over my head. But this is me holding up 75 lbs overhead, when 9 months ago I struggled with just putting a 35 lbs bar up there.

My feet are too far apart, I’m making THE WORST expression, and I could have put more weight over my head. But this is me holding up 75 lbs overhead, when 9 months ago I struggled with just putting a 35 lbs bar up there, so I’m sharing it for posterity.

The first two workouts had been common knowledge for a few weeks before the competition, but the final workout was kept a mystery until that day. We had to do weighted forwards and backwards lunges with 2 kettlebells (26 lbs for girls, 35 lbs for guys), a 250 meter row on a rowing machine, and 100 push presses as a team (55 lbs for girls, 75 lbs for guys). The hitch was that the first person would do the lunges, run to the rowing machine, and as soon as they got strapped into the rowing machine, the next person would pick up their kettlebells and stand with them (no lunges) until the row was complete. At that point, the rower would run to the push press station and start working on push presses, and the lunger would start doing lunges, then move on to the rower. The person doing lunges could never start doing them until the rower was done, and if at any point the person put down their kettlebells the rower had to stop rowing until the kettlebells were back in hand. After all of the team members were done with lunges, rowing, and all 100 push presses, then they had to do this weird exercise called a mudskipper (after a fish native to the region that walks on land). One team member puts their toes on a frisbee, gets into what basically turns out to be the plank position, and uses their hands to walk across the football field and drag their feet behind them. The best strategy that we saw for this was to do more of an inchworm move, where instead of making the back half of your body deadweight, you bring your knees towards your chest, walk hands forward, scoot knees to chest, walk hands forward, etc. It covered a lot more ground more quickly, and was a great ab workout.

The Gray Division teams after competing, sweaty and happy.

The Gray Division teams after competing, sweaty and happy.

In the end, my team didn’t win. We finished 45th out of 47 teams. But to my surprise, I wasn’t disappointed at all. We worked REALLY HARD. It was a great workout. We finished everything we started out to do, and never gave up. For a team where only one of us had competed in Tribal Wars before, we did a damn good job.

What was even more surprising for me is that after the competition was over, after we all got together on Saturday night to take over the hotel bar, and after the biggest Cracker Barrel breakfast the next morning, all the way home I couldn’t help but plan for how I’d be better next year. I walked into Tribal Wars feeling pretty apprehensive, not sure that I’d even make it through the workouts, almost certain that I was bound to disappoint my teammates and make a fool of myself. I left Birmingham feeling awesome. I’d made new friends, completed a really hard workout, and had complete faith that I could do it again – better – next year. It also gave me the idea to start thinking of every workout between now and the next Tribal Wars as competition training. It’s entirely possible to get much, much stronger between now and then, and I’m going to do it.

Breakfast at Cracker Barrel on Sunday - we had so many plates that we were running out of room on the table!

Breakfast at Cracker Barrel on Sunday – we had so many plates that we were running out of room on the table!

Overall, I’m really grateful to my Iron Tribe friends and family for being there. I have a lot of issues with my body. I was never confident about my physical appearance to begin with, but gaining so much weight over the last couple of years has been an enormous strain on me. I feel like Tribal Wars helped punch a big ol’ hole in those clouds of doubt. Yes, I’m aware that my body doesn’t look how I’d look in an ideal world. But I’m happy to trade out those worries for the time being, and to instead concentrate on how powerful and capable my body is. I’m so strong, and only getting stronger. I’m totally OK with that.

Thanks Coach

itisinherself

Yeah…but having a few friends doesn’t hurt, either.

 

I’ve been taking my time with answering the Beautiful You prompts, mostly because I don’t always have an easy answer when I read about what I’m supposed to be thinking/writing about that day. Sometimes it takes some time to think everything through enough to take a stab at talking about it here. For instance, I’ve been ruminating over today’s prompt for almost two weeks now. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Day 21 asks us to consider how we’ve been championed, either by ourselves or others. Who has stood up for us, told us we were worth something, made us start to realize it for ourselves? I’ve got to be honest with you, this took a long time to wrap my head around. It’s not that I don’t have some wonderful, supportive people in my life. It’s just that until lately, when it came to the mental and physical battle of coming to terms with my body, I felt like I was all on my own.

Tomorrow’s the last day of the Iron Tribe Transformation Challenge. I was having a hard go of it last week, and now I’ve been sick for the last couple of days, so I’m having my doubts about winning the competition. However, I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that no matter who gets the prize in the end, I AM a winner. I have won something really important over the last 40 days: knowledge that I can change, that I am much stronger and more capable than I’d imagined, and that there’s a support system in place for me. I’m not on my own in this any longer.

Throughout this journey, I’ve been so lucky to have some amazing coaches there at the gym, and on social media, and via text. Shelby, Joe, Hayden and Jim have had my back every time I had a question or a worry. Joe sent me a note in the mail the other day to tell me he was proud of my improvement, and I cried like a baby – because I KNEW I deserved his praise, and that’s not an emotion I’m really familiar with. Shelby in particular has been there for me every step of the way, and I can’t begin to tell you how important that has been for me. She’s so warm and genuine. She’s given me support when I was struggling (mentally and physically), offered me advice and laughter when I most needed it (but as always, was too proud to ask), and has been a shining example of what a coach – and a human being – should be.

It’s tough to explain it, but like a lot of people, I spend probably 95% of my time mentally beating myself up for not being good enough. The coaching staff at Iron Tribe has made me start to take a look at myself and realize that I don’t deserve that kind of mistreatment. Sure, I’m not lifting crazy heavy. I might be the slowest ever at burpees. I still haven’t mastered the double under or the handstand pushup. But I’m getting better at box jumps, and my deadlifts aren’t half bad. My squat is 100% better than where it was a few months ago, and you should see my calf muscles and triceps – killer. If I keep this up, I’ll be wearing a bikini this summer, and rocking that Star Trek TOS uniform mini by next Mardi Gras.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’ve lost almost 14 lbs over the course of this challenge, and I’m so much stronger and wiser. I’m eating healthier, drinking much less, and feel like I could keep this up indefinitely. Which I’m guessing is the entire point Iron Tribe is trying to get us to realize – those sneaky bastards.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that whether or not I win a single thing, I’m winning inside. Thanks Coach.

A Week’s Worth Of Notes In 45 Minutes

Mardi Gras Float Storage

This pretty much sums up how I felt this week. (Also, if you’re curious, this is what used Mardi Gras float components look like in storage.)

It’s almost 1am, and since I need to wake up in seven hours, I’ll try to keep this brief. However, I didn’t want to go to sleep without jotting down a few thoughts about this past week. So here goes…

Iron Tribe Transformation Challenge: We’re almost done. It’s hard to believe that 40 days has gone by this quickly. I’m not really sure how I’m doing just now, mostly because I screwed up last weekend and it took me most of the week to recover. One of my best friends was in town with her husband for the weekend, and we went out for a drink on Saturday night. Since I haven’t been drinking at all during the challenge, I was planning to just have one cocktail and then stick to water. But somehow I ended up having four or five. My body couldn’t handle it, and I was incredibly hungover (read: at death’s doorstep) on Sunday. The only food I could manage to get down was my “comfort food” – Chinese takeout, followed by pizza a few hours later. I made similar dietary mistakes (thankfully in lesser quantities) for the next couple of days.

To make it worse, my period started this week (sorry for the TMI, dudes), and from Tuesday through Thursday I was feeling terrible. Everyone’s experience is different, and honestly, every month’s experience is different for me. Some months I won’t even have a cramp. Others I’ll be doubled over in pain. This month I was ridiculously emotional, and physically weak. I’m not sure if I’m weaker every month, since this is the first time I noticed it. And boy, did I notice it.

On Monday at the gym, one of the coaches remarked that I should be using a little more weight, and I nearly broke down and cried over nothing. I couldn’t drag myself to the gym on Tuesday and Wednesday, but during Thursday’s workout the simplest movements were grueling. I had the lightest amount of weight on the bar that I could use and still look alive (35 lbs bar + two 10 lbs plates = 55 lbs) and every move was a struggle. To give you some perspective, I’m not terribly strong, but I’d typically be at at least 65 lbs for something where I needed to put the bar over my head (strict press, for example).

Today was pretty rough, too, but at least my emotions were in check. I’ve gotten so used to being happy and excited to go to the gym that facing this week’s emotional depletion was really scary for me. There are a lot of things that rock about being a woman, but the monthly emotional rollercoaster is not one of them.

Work: It’s going pretty well. Nothing to write home about, but we’re getting some new contracts at one of my jobs, so that’s great, and the other job is running smoothly. For now, all is well.

Fortune favors the brave, you know.

Fortune favors the brave, you know.

Relationship: I’m coming up on the one year anniversary of my first date with my boyfriend. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. We didn’t start dating for real until April, but we’ve been counting the first time we went to a concert together as our official anniversary since it was such an important moment, and it stood out like a touch of magic in both of our lives. It’s a little weird, since it wasn’t supposed to be a date, and I was dating someone else, but we connected, and that connection grew, and now we’re here. Life is messy. But I love him, and he loves me, and all is good. I have never felt so emotionally supported as I do right now. He gets me. He gets stuff about me that I don’t even get. He sees things that I see, but never know how to explain, and we laugh so much. We’re synced in so many ways that sometimes it’s a little unnerving. We’re not perfect, but we make each other better people. We’ve been going to yoga together each week, and tonight we went to a ska concert (Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, and Authority Zero). He’s teaching me so much about my strengths and my limitations, and I’m really grateful to get to not only get to know him, but to know myself through him. I’m excited to see what the next year of our relationship looks like.

Drinking: I mentioned it above, but I don’t really talk about it that much on the blog in general. However, I should probably note that I’ve been unhappy with my drinking habits for awhile now. Joining Iron Tribe and starting this Transformation Challenge were a good kick in the butt to reevaluate my relationship with alcohol, and see if there was a way to make a positive change for myself in that arena. Without going into it too much (I’ll save it for another post), I’m really proud of how I’ve changed my alcohol intake since January 5th.

Before the challenge, a typical week for me would be going out two or three times a week, with 3 – 5 drinks each night, and a couple of glasses of wine at home on the other nights. As crazy as that might sound to those of you living anywhere other than New Orleans, that’s actually quite a reduction in my habits from a year ago, when I was drinking a bottle of wine most nights. At no time did I feel addicted or like I even had a problem, but I was always lethargic and achey. It’s obvious now that whether or not a chemical dependency was in play, the amount that I was drinking was poisoning my body.

Mostly I was doing it to self-medicate, which is dangerous in and of itself. I don’t like hanging out in crowds, or meeting new people, so if alcohol was an option, I’d gladly take it. Drinking at home before a year ago was to deal with an unhappy relationship and growing depression. Drinking at home during the course of this year was sometimes just because it’s damn pleasant to have a glass of wine and watch a movie with your boo, but sometimes because I hated my work schedule and was drinking to escape life for awhile.

Since the challenge started, I’ve had two nights where I drank 2 glasses of wine while watching a movie with my beloved, and one night where I drank way too much whiskey while hanging out with my bestie, her husband, my boyfriend, and one of his friends at a crowded bar. What have I learned? Avoid crowded bars, treat wine as a special treat, and most of all, enjoy sobriety. It feels a hell of a lot better in the morning when you haven’t actively poisoned yourself the night before. Also, when you’re in your 30s, your friends won’t treat you like a pariah if you say you’d rather just drink club soda. Or at least my friends won’t. I suppose if mine did, I’d just have to find new friends. We’ll see what happens when Mardi Gras weekend comes along, but as of right now I feel pretty good about my decision to keep it light on the booze and heavy on the working out.

French Quarter home, all dressed up for Mardi Gras. Follow me on Instagram for more architecture photos.

French Quarter home, all dressed up for Mardi Gras. Follow me on Instagram for more photos of New Orleans life and architecture.

Santiago de Compostela: I’ve been shopping for gear, but haven’t made any decisions yet about pretty much anything. The flight is taken care of, and I know I’ve got some time before I have to really start pulling together the bits and pieces I’ll need for my pilgrimage. Right now, my main mental battle is on whether to wear pants or leggings (I’m thinking leggings, b/c of thigh chafing) and whether I can get away with wearing trail trainers instead of boots (experienced peregrinos say yes). We’ll see.

The First 10 Pounds

Road Map to Weight Loss

If by “diet” you mean “paleo”, then yes, we’re in business.

Today I hit 184.8 lbs. A couple of years ago, had you told me that I’d be this heavy, I would have been appalled. But today, I’m happy. I’m happy because 19 days ago I was 194.8 lbs., and yesterday I fit into jeans I haven’t been able to wear for a few months. Ten easy pounds down – 40 much harder ones to go.

First off, let’s just get this out of the way – weight loss is not magical. Weight loss is not something to be done quickly. It’s totally possible to take diet pills and starve yourself and get skinny (I know this because I’ve done it in the past), but that shit catches up with you in the end (see 1st paragraph). The full extent of my “magic formula” thus far is lifting weights and doing high intensity interval training five days a week, 45 minutes a day, walking between 5 and 8 miles a day, eating paleo, staying hydrated (aiming for my body weight in oz. of water), taking fish oil and PAGG supplements, and keeping track of everything in a food/exercise journal.

All through high school, I was 135 lbs. I ran track and ate whatever I wanted, and I had a decent enough figure. Then I went to college, in the first semester I gained 20 lbs. from sleeping in and eating as much food as a non-body-conscious 18 year old is bound to do on an unlimited meal plan. A few people told me that the weight looked good on me, and rather than take a look and decide for myself, I decided that sounded OK and just went with it. I remained at 155 lbs. throughout college and into my early 20’s, when Hurricane Katrina disrupted my life. For about 5 months after Katrina, I was too broke to eat properly, and I dropped back down to 135 again (still no exercise, just no food). Then I got back to New Orleans and gradually started gaining the weight back, plateauing at 155 until 2007, when I went through a particularly stressful period and went up to around 165. I moved to Chicago, started going to the gym a couple of hours a day, training for a marathon, and doing Bikram yoga, and quickly dropped back down to 145 again, at one point getting as low as 138 while doing a raw cleanse. When I got back to New Orleans again in 2011, I slowly started putting on more weight, passed my normal plateau point of 155, and just kept going until now.

Every single one of the drastic losses have happened as a result of either crazy exercise – hours and hours per day – and/or crazy food restrictions. None of them has been sustainable, or in the least enjoyable. Every time I’ve dieted, I’ve spent pretty much every waking hour craving whatever it was that I wasn’t supposed to be eating (and those ingredients have varied wildly, as I flitted from diet to diet). The exercise has me completely worn out all day. I’m irritable, and frequently experience dizzy spells throughout the day.

So what’s the difference now?

First off, I’ve decided that this is it. This is the heaviest I will ever be, and come hell or high water, I’m going to make the changes that are necessary to get healthy and stay that way. I’m also 19 days into a 40 day challenge period at my gym, Iron Tribe, where I’ve been given the goal of staying as paleo as possible, working out at least 5 times per week, and staying physically active throughout the rest of my day. Not only am I not craving anything (except for brownies, which I’m getting ready to fix tomorrow with this stellar paleo brownie recipe I just found tonight), I’m not feeling tired, sick, or dizzy. I feel HEALTHY. Sturdy. Capable of more if I want to push the limits. Excited to continue to push those limits after this 40 days is up. For the first time in my memory, I feel like I’m getting this weight loss thing right. And it feels so good.

So yeah, I’m still a good 40 lbs. over where I’d like to be, but I have faith that I’m going to get there. The first ten pounds are out of the way, and the rest are going to take considerably longer than 19 days to disappear. But I know that it took me years to put on this weight, and with some faith, I’ll excel in shedding it again. For good this time.

One other thing that I’m really excited about is that I haven’t had a drink in 19 days. During the last year or so of my old relationship, I was drinking a few glasses of wine most days, and sometimes more. In retrospect, I realize that this was extremely unhealthy, physically and emotionally, since I was doing it to make my life bearable. Even after moving into my own place, and transitioning into a much more healthy relationship with my current beau, I was still going out and having a few drinks a couple of days a week. I wasn’t seeing not drinking as an option (as many people here in New Orleans don’t), and to be honest, I hate social engagements when I’m sober. In general, I just don’t like being in big groups of people, or going out to loud, crowded bars or concerts. I’d much rather stay home or hang out with a few people at a time. I was drinking to make talking to people bearable, but in the end, I was experiencing many more negative side effects than positive. Mornings after were never pleasant, and my depression definitely sunk its claws in more on days after I’d had a few drinks.

It was such a relief to have this challenge pop up and, well, challenge me to give up drinking and see how I’d feel without it. I’ve cut down on going out, that’s for sure, so I’m nowhere near as social as I was trying to be. But overall, I don’t care. I don’t miss being out at all, and if knocking booze out of the picture means that I’ll be less sad and start to lose some weight, I call it a fair trade. Even though I’m not addicted to alcohol in a dire sense, I’m glad to be able to address my need to dull the pain of social interaction with substances (including scarfing down bar food to avoid talking). Whether that means I’ll be losing friends in the end still remains to be seen, but overall, everyone’s been really supportive so far.

I could just keep writing on my feelings about this drastic change. Like how excited I am to eat bacon every morning, or how weird and amazing it is to walk past the cheese aisle and not fall to my knees (mentally, at least) with the overwhelming need for a wedge of brie. But it’s time for one of the most important parts of keeping my body healthy – sleep. A glorious 8 hours of it. All mine. Damn, I’m digging being me right now.

The Transformation Challenge

I'm so excited - my gym is actually getting special Mardi Gras shirts made. Totally geeking out over this one :-D

I’m so excited – my gym is actually getting special Mardi Gras shirts made. Totally geeking out over this one 😀

It’s 10 days into the Transformation Challenge at my gym, Iron Tribe, and quite unexpectedly, I’m loving it. The challenge is, well, challenging, but also pretty simply laid out, in my opinion. From January 5th to February 13th, participants eat a strict paleo diet and work out up to 5 times a week at the gym. There are two competitions that are running concurrently: a weight loss division, and a performance division. I’m in the weight loss division, obviously.

There’s a point system for determining the winner. It’s a little complicated, so I won’t break it down entirely, but it includes points for working out in certain amounts, points for keeping a detailed food/water/sleep/exercise journal, points for completing a goal setting course, and points for each .2% of fat lost over the course of the challenge. The prizes are HUGE. First place winner gets a $200 gift certificate to Whole Foods (some of you might recognize it as Whole Paycheck), a free month at the gym, a free week of paleo food from Inner Fire Grill (yum), an entire free outfit from Lululemon, and a free 80 minute massage. Second place gets $150 at Whole Foods, $50 at a nearby restaurant, and a free month at the gym. Third gets $100 at Whole Foods and a great supplements package. I’m in it to win it, so I’m visualizing myself in a brand new Lululemon getup 😀

I'm coveting these awesome Lululemon pants.

I’m coveting these awesome Lululemon pants.

The awful thing: I had my body fat measured (by caliper) at the beginning of the challenge, and it came in at 43.1%. Meaning that at 5’7″ and 194.8 lbs, I was/am obese. I don’t look it – I mean, I know I’ve put on a little weight in my butt and thighs, and my boobs are bigger (how can that be a bad thing, you ask) but overall I don’t look like I weigh what I weigh. I’ve only gone up one pants size, even with all the additional weight I’ve put on over the last year or so – but “obese” put the fear of god in me. So I’ve been taking this thing seriously. And it hasn’t been hard. That’s the part that’s blowing my mind.

I’m at the gym daily, lifting weights or doing whatever the WOD is that day. I walk to and from work/the gym from my house, and then anywhere else I have to go, so I’m typically walking between 5 and 9 miles a day. I ran a 5k on Saturday morning, and went to my first yoga class in ages on Monday night. And I’ve been eating clean – all organic, no processed food, sugar, wheat, dairy, legumes, alcohol or sodas. You’d think I’d be losing my shit by now, not having a single slice of pizza or sip of wine, but overall I just feel…good. Just good. Not great. Not more focused. Not suddenly insightful or whatever it is that people always proclaim when they’ve found the diet to end all diets. Maybe that’s because it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. It’s something that will sustain me for the long term, and the longer I go, the better I’ll feel. I’m pretty certain I’ve still got some thyroid stuff going on, especially with the recent struggle with depression, and that’s definitely going to take some of the “high” out of whatever impact this change is having on me. But overall, “good” is much, much better than what I’d been living with prior to starting this new lifestyle. And it’s easy. For the first time in my life, I’ve found a way to eat that doesn’t have me sad and craving constantly. I think I’ll keep doing it.

It’s having other effects, too. As of today, 10 days in, I’ve lost 7.2 lbs. I’m still too heavy, and I have a LONG way to go to get to my goal weight of 145 lbs, but that’s nothing new. But suddenly I feel like it’s not farfetched to picture myself finally wearing a bikini this summer, or trying out a miniskirt before I get too old to wear one (I’ve been dying to try out a TOS Star Trek uniform – yes, I’m a geek).

That's one nearly non-existent skirt you've got there, Uhura.

That’s one nearly non-existent skirt you’ve got there, Uhura.

I think that maybe part of feeling so relaxed about this is from the work I’ve been doing with that book, Beautiful You. Once I get home tonight, I’ll tackle the next chapter.

So what are you doing lately that makes you proud of yourself, internet friends? I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment, or direct me to your latest blog post about your achievements. I’d be more than happy to help you celebrate!

Random Thoughts: December Edition

Doing a back squat at the gym a few weeks ago.

Doing a back squat at the gym a few weeks ago.

Thought 1:
Tonight at the gym, I lifted 75 lbs over my head! I’m really proud of myself. When I started at Iron Tribe a couple of months ago, I was having doubts about being able to lift the training bar (15 lbs). Of course, I was able to do it, but at first I didn’t have the confidence to try that hard. But I did, and eventually I added on weight and saw that I could lift the bar + weight, and by the end of the first month I’d moved up to the regulation bar for women (35 lbs). I’ve done a back squat at a little over 100 lbs before, but tonight was the first time I tried adding weight on to a push jerk, and it was an incredible feeling of accomplishment.

I’m not crazy over-the-moon about lifting weights, but I do like the workout, and I love my gym. I feel like part of a tribe there. Everyone knows everyone else’s name, and people are accepting of your limitations. No one is a meathead, and no one’s trying to intimidate anyone into lifting heavy or being a badass. We’re all just trying to do our best there together. It’s by far the best gym experience I’ve ever had, though I still miss Bikram on a daily basis. Eventually I’d like to try to fit both into my schedule, but I’m not going to push too hard. One great thing at a time. I’ve got time.

Thought 2:
I was getting acupuncture about a year ago, and really liked it, but the community clinic I visited shut down and then there were no affordable services in my area. A week or so ago, I found out about a new one right down the street from me, and made an appointment for this last Saturday. Just like I remembered, I really loved the session. It’s hard to explain, but there’s something so relaxing about it. I typically pass out within minutes of having the needles placed, and wake up naturally about an hour later. The needles are barely noticeable, and there’s no pain, just a little bit of weird pressure at some points, more like feeling the weight of the top of the needle (the top is just a bit thicker than the shaft) as it quivers above your body.

I was the last person in the clinic that day, and when the acupuncturist came to take out my needles, her dog got out into the clinic, too. Or maybe she let him out, I’m not sure. I’m wondering if it’s the latter, because he ran in the room and instantly made a beeline for me. He was a pit bull mix of some sort, a beautiful, muscular black and white dog. I was still reclined in my chair, just letting that peace roll over me, and he sidled up to me and laid his chin on my shoulder, nose to my cheek, and stared at me. It’s hard to explain, but I felt like it was a gesture of solidarity and support. It was the best possible way to end the session. In hindsight, I should have asked if he was a therapy dog, because he was so calm, and stuck by me until I left (after about 10 minutes of kisses and chin scratches, of course – I love animals). I’m excited to go back next time – the acupuncture is great, but there’s nothing like getting in some dog time.

Thought 3:
While I was at the acupuncture clinic, I saw a sign for a Reiki healer. I’d like to see another one. The last one scared me a little. Or I scared me a little. Either way, I could really use someone’s help in learning how to ground, shield, and straighten out all of this energy. On Saturday, the acupuncturist told me that my aura was muddled. Though I didn’t necessarily trust her to tell me that, since it wasn’t her area of expertise, I know I’m not feeling much more than half OK most of the time – sometimes less than that.

Also at the clinic, I saw a sign for a new school that’s opening in the new year, that will have some new age-y types of health/spirituality classes. I felt like I was meant to see that sign. I can’t wait to find out what kinds of opportunities open up in the new year.

Thought 4:
Trying to figure out how to afford to go home at Christmas, but I’m really having trouble with it. My folks live in NC. I wasn’t able to get a flight ahead of time, so once I’ve got the money towards the end of the week (maybe next week), the flights will be really expensive. Add flight to car rental and cat sitter, and we’re looking at around $1k to go home – not counting the money I’ll lose by taking off a week of work, which is considerably more than the cost to go home. I’m going to have to tell my parents that I can’t afford the trip once again, and once again I’ll break their hearts.

But what’s really getting me down is that my uncle said that my mom was upset at me and talking about it during Thanksgiving. I don’t know what was said; he just said it in passing, but I can only imagine that she’s pissed that I haven’t been home in years. If I had to take an educated stab in the dark, I’d guess that she doesn’t understand how I can take trips to Chicago once a month and not be able to afford to go to NC. I really hope I don’t have to have a conversation with her about how business travel and reimbursements work. I think I’ll look into how expensive it would be to fly them both down here for a trip, instead. Except that they hate it here. Hmmm.

Thought 5:
I should go to bed. It will soon be time to start this whole insane mess over again…

The Fine Art Of Buckling Down

Iron-Tribe1

I’m starting something new tomorrow, and I’m a little scared. After years of repeated (failed) attempts to eat the right foods and exercise on a regular schedule, I’ve decided it’s time to make the changes I’ve known I should make all along. A few days ago, I took the leap and joined up with a chain gym called Iron Tribe. Those of you who know me well will know that the name doesn’t thrill me, and that the thought of being a person connected to a close-knit team of fitness nuts (as the words “iron tribe” suggest to me, anyway) would have, up until now at least, made me want to puke a little. But I’ve got a friend who’s in the program and making incredible progress, and since our personality types are pretty similar – anxious workaholics with a taste for booze and Italian food – I figured I’d give it a shot.

The first month is a 101 program. My class will always be the same group of people, all newbies, all learning how to lift weights and do exercises and follow a Paleo diet plan. We’ll meet three days a week, and I should (hopefully) “graduate” on the day before my birthday. From what I’ve read, it’s realistic to think that I could be around 10 lbs. lighter by then, and from what I’ve seen in my friend who’s in the course, I’ll also be much calmer, which would be lovely.

After the 101 class, I’ll move into a four day a week program with the people I’m calling “gen pop” – everyone who’s passed 101 in the past. It’s a little like the kind of thing that people generally do in crossfit gyms – weight training and endurance exercises – but with a much stronger relationship between the trainers and members, and very small groups, so there’s lots of one-on-one with the trainers. Best of all, they promise results as long as you work out at least three days a week and stick to their recommended diet. If you haven’t shown improvement in a few months, they’ll let you out of your contract and refund your fees.

So. There we are. As of 7:30 in the morning (so damn early!), I’ll be sweating my butt off at the gym. Man, I really hope this sticks. Wish me luck at this, guys. I need it.